Stretching exercises are used to lengthen muscle fibres and increase range of motion of joints. When considering running biomechanics, adequate hip extension (bringing the leg back) and ankle dorsiflexion (“bending” the ankle) are required for proper push-off. Adequate hip flexion (bringing the leg forward) and knee extension in hip flexion (straightening the knee with the leg forward) are required for a proper swing phase.
If you are lacking range of motion of these four movements, it may be due to a lack of flexibility in your hip flexors, quadriceps, calf muscles, gluteals, hamstrings, and you may benefit from a stretching exercise program to improve your running technique.
- Lack of hip extension – hip flexors/rectus femoris (quadriceps) flexibility
- Lack of ankle dorsiflexion – gastroc/soleus (calf) flexibility
- Lack of hip flexion – gluteals (buttock) flexibility
- Lack of knee extension in hip flexion – hamstring flexibility
This may come as a shock to some of you, but one thing stretching does NOT do is decrease your DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) or speed up your recovery!
So, who should stretch?
- People with a lack of flexibility in muscles (shortened muscles) causing a lack of range of motion in the above-mentioned joints, which is affecting their running biomechanics/efficiency
- If such restrictions are not identified, then stretching of these muscle groups is not required (specifically for running)
And when should people stretch?
- One thing is clear, static stretching (prolonged holds) should NOT be performed before running or before any activity where muscle power (strength + speed) might be required. As stretching exercises lengthen muscle fibres, muscle contractions of the same muscle are less efficient/powerful soon after these exercises. This can lead to increased chances of injury.
- If restrictions mentioned above are noted, stretching can be performed after running or at any other time during the day (other than before a run).
The moral of this blog is you shouldn’t necessarily feel “guilty” for “forgetting to stretch” after a run – you might not even need to!